Duffy makes sacrifices to protect Olympic dream
Flora Duffy conceded she had to “sacrifice” the ITU World Triathlon Series to preserve her aspirations of fulfilling a dream of Olympic glory.
Having failed to recover from an injury in her left foot, that has kept her sidelined since August last year, the two-times world champion was forced to make the bitter decision last week to withdraw from MS Amlin World Triathlon Bermuda.
However, while the decision was not taken lightly after her dominant victory on home soil in last year’s event, Duffy is adamant that her omission from not only the upcoming race in Bermuda, but for the foreseeable future, is a necessity in order to achieve a greater goal in Tokyo next year.
“I had to think about what do I want most. Do I put the WTS events to one side and push for the Olympics or do I carry on struggling now and risk missing out on the Olympics next year,” said Duffy, who competed at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“For me, the only decision was to go for the Olympics because I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted to in the WTS events, particularity after last year’s event in Bermuda.
“The only thing left for me to achieve is a medal at the Olympics and so if I have to miss key WTS events to be able to achieve my ultimate goal, then that is what I have to do.
“I have to all but sacrifice the WTS events, including Bermuda, to make sure I give myself a chance of reaching the Olympics again, winning an Olympic medal was always a childhood dream.”
Reflecting further on the decision to make a public announcement in the lead up to Saturday’s event, Duffy revealed the mounting self-imposed pressure has finally been eased after being forced to focus on the healing process on the tear in the posterial tibial tendon in her left foot.
“It was a horrible position to be in and a very difficult decision to make,” she added. “I just felt like I was letting a lot of people down, but ultimately it was the best decision for me personally and for my recovery.
“It is incredibly difficult being injured and even more so being one of the high-profile people involved in the event and have to step away.
“In a weird way, though, the pressure is finally off in a sense because I’ve taken the decision to step away and try and heal fully.
“After making the announcement it felt like a big weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I had left it open and had been worrying about not being able to compete but now my situation is clear, I have to take things slower. Really, when I think about how things have gone, I should have stopped in June last year but it is so difficult when you are the best in the world at that time and winning.
“I knew I wasn’t fully fit at the time but I wanted to, and kept throwing everything at it. I was having treatment and fully expected to get back to full fitness; it’s hard to believe that more than eight months on I’m in this position.
“It’s the first time in my career I’ve had a prolonged period out injured and it’s certainly been a learning experience. It’s hard to think I could be and should be racing this weekend, but I’ve got to be patient.
“It’s hard to accept and I’ve definitely been humbled by the injury.”
Finally accepting her predicament, Duffy is slowly adjusting to her new and much reduced training regime, conceding there is little she can really do to the affected area but be patient.
“I’ve just being trying to deal with the situation and whatever comes up but it has been hard both mentally and physically,” Duffy said.
“All I can do is let the injury heal in its own time. It’s like it has a mind of its own. It’s out of my hands, which is the most frustrating thing for an athlete, but all I can really do is go with the flow and take it day by day.
“There is also nothing I can do to really protect the area. It gets irritated with shoes on but also when I don’t wear shoes and so it’s a really fine balance as how to best heal.
“I’ve had differing opinions from different doctors and specialists and, while I wouldn’t say it’s a crazy injury, it is an issue to be able to run properly.
“It’s been incredibly difficult to adjust to doing such reduced training with the intensity cut massively.
“I’m only doing one light session a day and it seems like nothing compared to my usual routine. I’m still in good shape with my swimming and cycling but obviously the running hampers everything.
“I’m still training but it’s more focused on strengthening exercises and a lot of time in the gym.”
While determined to return to action as quickly as possible, the 31-year-old, who won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, last April, is refusing to put added pressure on herself with timescales or deadlines for her return.
“In terms of recovery, it’s hard to really know,” she added. “It’s a difficult process at the moment because it’s out of my hands, but my only real long-term aim is the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“Of course, in an ideal world, I would want to be back before then, but that is what I’m gearing my full recovery towards. I’ll have to see how things go on a month-to-month basis.
“I haven’t given myself a timeline or specific date to be fit by. I’ve done that in the past and been let down, so whenever I can get fit will be a big bonus.”
In her recovery process, Duffy revealed that her shift in mindset from immediate disappointment to determination had been aided by the incredible comeback by long-term friend and four-times world champion, Tim Don, who suffered horrific injuries after being hit by a car, before returning to compete again.
Having seen his incredible recovery first hand while training together and receiving words of encouragement from Don — who backed the Bermudian as a “medal favourite” in Tokyo, while on a recent trip to the island — Duffy admitted to gaining a new perspective as well as inspiration.
“I’m absolutely confident that I will recover and come back,” she added.
“We see sporting comebacks all of the time, and in some cases they have come from rock-bottom to get back on top.
“It’s definitely achievable; I’m still in great form in the other disciplines and I won’t be starting from square one, so it won’t be a total mountain to climb.
“It’s surreal to hear people like Tim Don still believe I can be a favourite at the Olympics next year despite my injury problems.
“I spent a lot of time with him after his horrific injury and watched him work back to a level where he was competing again.
“It was so inspiring watching that journey and when you are surrounded by people like him, you can only feel humbled about your own injury problems; it puts my situation into perspective.
“I know when I look back at this moment in years to come, it will only be a year that I’ve taken off; it’s just a small moment in my career, nothing more than an irritation.”